Thursday, June 08, 2006

Serenity Now!

I like kids. I do. Actually, it seems to me that the younger they are, the more I like them. I think I like kids who can speak English the best, simply because it's easier! My students get frustrated because they can't tell me what they want to tell me, and it doesn't matter if they say things to me in Korean quickly, or in other Korean terms, or slowly and loudly like I'm "slow." Unless their sentence contains any of the smattering of words I know, or it's in some sort of context, I'm just not going to be able to get it.

I know the same goes for them in English. The younger ones aren't going to be able to understand me if I ask them, "Would it be possible, fine chap, for you to place your writing instrument atop the desk and listen up, tally ho, like?" I do have more success with "Yo, put your pencil down and look at me." At the very least I have my amazing powers of mime for explanation, or drawing a little picture on the board. I really think that the better of a doodler you are, the better you'll be able to make yourself understood here.*

I was speaking a few weeks ago with someone I hadn't talked to in a long time. He is a former co-worker of mine and a good friend I'd managed to lose touch with. I always thought he was so fabulously matched with his position of "Volunteer Coordinator" at the non-profit organization where we worked because he has a wonderful way with people, and is really good at reading them and developing a fair sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Some things he's pointed out to me about my own characteristics have stayed with me forever, and he had another point on the phone that gave me pause for thought.

I was telling him what it's like to be living in a country where you don't speak the language and some of the habits of the people are a bit hard to get used to. And what it's like to teach here. (He had asked.)
My friend shares the same school of thought that I do: that every person is exactly where they should be in order for them to develop their greatest potential and have their most meaningful learning experiences. It's the reason that I try to stop myself when my mind wanders off to the "if only I was (insert something or some place or someone other than what/where/who I am now,) I would be (better.)
If only I was rich, I would be happy.
If only I were thinner, I would be happier.
If only I could speak the language, I would be more comfortable.
If only I were in a chaise lounge on the French Riviera sipping a mojito and smoking a cigarette in a Gucci holder with my Manolo Blahniks and pink puffy poodle I would feel more deserving and accomplished.**

I'm more interested, however, in using the means I have to be better here and now. I'm more curious about the lessons to be learnt today, and how to better use my strengths while strengthening my weaknesses. So a bell went off in my mind when Richard suggested, "Maybe you're there to learn patience, because, y'know, ya never did really have any!"

At first, I was like "HUH? Me? No patience?!? Explain what the hell you mean by that, and be quick about it, or I'm going to hang up on your sagely ass!"
Not really.
Actually, I said "Hmmmmm," and I knew instantly he was right.

I tend to do things pretty quickly. I talk fast, I think fast, and I get things done fast. My patience has always been tested by those who can't keep up. However, daily, over the past four and a half years I've had to slow down. Speak more clearly. Listen more earnestly. Shut up more longly. I've had to out of necessity, but I've been paying more attention to what's going on in my mind in the meantime, and I'm quite sure I haven't managed to calm the stormy interior to match my calmer appearance. So I've still got lots of work to do on that.

The other night at a grocery store, when I came across the 10th cart blocking my passage while the cart's driver stood obliviously perusing the canned goods, I resisted my urge to smash into her cart with mine, and keep smashing it over and over and over until it had been smashed through the wall at the other end of the store.
Is that normal? Maybe,...but what the hell? I wasn't in a hurry. This woman didn't place her cart directly across the aisle thinking "this'll really piss that impatient foreigner off!" In fact, she probably was only thinking "ohhhh, corn!" when she abandoned her cart. Actually, thinking about it now, if I was Korean, smashing her cart with mine might be perfectly acceptable, Granted, not through the entire length of the supermarket and through the wall while screaming, but it's ok to physically remove things or people that are blocking your path here, and no one cares. But because I'm Canadian I've been accustomed to the "Excuse me, oh sorry!" format.

Anyhow, getting back to the kids.
I like kids. I do!
Every day, every class, just about every moment I spend teaching is another opportunity for me to improve upon my patience. In fact, the last class that I had tonight, which I teach a couple times a week is a perfect opportunity. It's a frickin madhouse. Today I picked up my pencil case and used it as a pretend telephone to act out me taking a call from a friend in Canada,
"Hello?" (my voice)
"Hi Jenny it's Bob in Canada!" (in my friend Bob's deeper voice)
"Oh hi Bob! I'm in South Korea!"
"Oh! What are you doing in South Korea?"
"Oh! I'm a ZOOKEEPER Bob! I work at the monkey cage!"

The kids thought that was funny, and their laughter made me smile. The steam which was just about to cause me to blow my lid receded. I like kids, but there's a couple I want to throttle every time I teach them.
Ahhh patience. (Ha ha - I feel like George Costanza's dad: "SERENITY NOW!") If I wanted to, I could consider myself a failure every day. Even if I don't outwardly lose my shit, I'm flipping out noticeably on the inside, and it almost always boils down to frustration and impatience. On the other hand, at least my being acutely aware of it now means that I'll have another opportunity soon enough to do better.
And so, it's worth it.

In summation, "Life: Worth It."

*By the way, I really do recommend for anyone who's new here and can't speak Korean to carry a notepad and little pen with you. As a last resort you can draw what you need. I once went to the little grocer's underneath my building the first month I was here wanting bread. I pantomimed a rectangle sliced into, well, slices, and the old lady at the till nodded and brought me over to the maxi pads. Also, if you go out to a bar with Koreans whose English isn't so great, you'll find yourself with some hilarious doodles (souvenirs) the next morning.

**If you ever do see me wearing Manolos and a chaise lounge, you have my permission to shove me in the pool and tell me to stop being such a fucking poser.

1 comment:

Rory said...

Shut up more longly.

I am going to adopt this expression in my everyday life.